(Not Professionally Edited)
Sam woke the next morning to the gentle sounds of snoring coming from behind her. She felt a complex of emotions when she rolled over and found it was coming from Ethan. Before she shook him awake, she took a moment to watch him sleep. He was facing her, his arm tucked under his pillow, his dark hair messy, his face shadowed with stubble. And he still managed to look so damn handsome. It was then she noticed he wore his shirt and pants. Her heart filled with love.
There were vague memories of being carried to bed, memories of curling up against him in her sleep, pleasant memories of him holding her in his arms. She was filled with so much love it hurt.
Why can’t he be mine?
With deep regret, she gave his shoulder a nudge. “Ethan. Ethan, you need to wake up.”
“It’s too early,” he mumbled sluggishly, still keeping his eyes closed.
She smiled, fighting the urge to lean down and kiss him awake. “It’s after eight.”
“Like I said, it’s too early. Come here.” He opened his eyes now, smiling as he pulled her too him. “You feel so nice.”
So did he. Too nice. “You need to go to work.” You need to leave before I beg you to stay.
“Last time I looked, I was my own boss. I choose my own hours.” Pulling her closer, she had just rested her head on his chest when the phone rang. Reaching his arm out to his left, he snatched the phone off of her nightstand.
Sam whipped the phone from his hand and sat up. “Hello.”
The way her father said her name held so much accusation she wanted to cringe. “Hi, Dad.”
“Would that happen to have been Mr. Montgomery who answered your telephone at eight fifteen in the morning, Samantha Jean?”
“Dad, don’t start.”
“Oh, I’ve only just begun. I called because I have some info for you and to see how you were doing. I guess I just got my answer. ”
“Dad.” The dial tone buzzed in her ear and she slammed the phone down on a curse. “Damn it!”
“Sorry, I didn’t think. Come back here.”
She slipped out of bed before he could grab her. “You need to go.” She needed to do serious damage control with her father.
“You’re upset because I answered your telephone?” He sat up, ran his fingers through his hair straightening the mess. “I said I was sorry.”
“It’s not just that, well it is and isn’t. I’m not angry at you. Christ, Ethan, I’m so confused.” She threw on her robe. “Where are we going with this?”
“I’m not sure I understand?”
“Us, you and me. I want to be with you so much but…Is there any chance you’ll end up going back to your wife?”
“What? No! Never,” he said the last sternly. “Is that what this is about?” Getting up off the bed, he took a step toward her, and she backed up. “Oh, Samantha.”
The hurt in his voice tugged at her heart. “I have to know, Ethan. I can’t open my heart and give myself to you completely if there’s a chance you’ll walk away from me when you decide you want your wife back.”
“Come here. Come here,” he repeated when she didn’t move. Letting out a long breath, she finally walked to him. He took her hands in his and brought them to his chest. “I couldn’t walk away from you for my life. You’re inside of me, Samantha Dowling. I can’t eat, sleep, breath for wanting you. And if I could make this mess with my soon to be ex-wife disappear, I would in a heartbeat.”
It did her heart good to hear him say that. “Does our being together hamper your divorce in any way?”
“No.” He kissed her hands then brought them back to his chest. “But I understand the position you’re in. Especially with your family. And I will respect any decision you make in regard to our relationship. I may not like it…” He frowned. “but I’ll abide by it.” He released her hands, slipped into his shoes then walked to the door. “I left my tie on your bedroom floor. If you feel the need to return it, I’ll be home by seven tonight.” He recited his address then closed the door.
Turning, Sam saw it lying on the bedroom floor and picking it up, pressed it to her cheek. She was finding it damn hard to let him go.
Ethan knew he was taking a big risk with what he was about to do, but it was time he took action. These allegations of Gwen’s were ludicrous and he was through with her conning him. He hadn’t doctored the company accounting records, but he needed to have a look at the records to compare with what Gwen had given him. Plus, he wanted to gather enough evidence to prove she was the one laundering money.
He never should have agreed to put her on the payroll—no—start from the beginning. He never should have married her in the first place.
Having set up an appointment with his cousin Paul who was head of accounting, Ethan stood by his office door and drew in a deep breath.
Knocking, he entered after getting the go-ahead and found his cousin Paul near the coffee station.
“Want a cup while I’m pouring?”
“No thanks. How have you been doing?”
“Good, good. You?” Paul carried his cup to his desk while Ethan took a seat across from him. Paul always reminded him of a surfer stuck in a corporate suit. It just didn’t suit him, but he was family and he was enthusiastic in wanting to learn everything there was to know at Montgomery Inc. So Paul had been hired as their accountant. He had the credentials and was more than qualified and he did a wonderful job.
“Well enough. It’s recently come to my attention that there might be some discrepancies in the books.”
“What? No way! Those books are perfect or as near perfect as I can get. Where did you get this information from?”
“I’d rather not say at this time. I’d like to take a look at them if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Of course, you’re the boss.” He smirked, giving Ethan a playful wink. “What in particular is it you’re looking for?”
Ethan drew in a deep breath and went for it. “I’ve been accused of withdrawing money from the accounts for my own gain.” Paul’s quick whip of laughter gave him the relief he so desperately needed.
“Right. Mr. Dedicated, can do no wrong, embezzle.” Paul shook his head as he lifted the cup to his lips. “Nonsense.” He sipped while his eyes stayed on Ethan’s.
“I need this to stay between you and I, until I can verify some things and find out how the records could have been altered.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. No prob. Mum’s the word, cuz,” Paul reassured as he pulled out his computer keyboard. “Okay, where am I looking?”
“I want the entire year.”
“That’s a tall order,” Paul added, typing in the request. “I…uh, heard about the arrest. That bites, huh?”
Releasing the bottom button on his suit jacket, Ethan shook his head. “I’d rather not discuss it.”
“Right, right. Okay, here we go.”
“Print it out,” Ethan instructed as he stood and walked around the desk to look at the computer screen.
It was time Gwen was stopped.
Stepping from her car, Sam drew in a deep breath before walking to her parent’s front door. She knew she had to talk with her father sooner or later, mainly because she needed to find out what information he had for her. She wasn’t quite sure what she was going to say to him about Ethan and really, she shouldn’t have to explain herself. She was an adult after all and if she chose to spend the night with a man, married or not, it was her choice.
Yeah…and yet the guilt was making her stomach ache.
It was so quiet when she entered her parent’s home that she almost turned around and left. Maybe she could sneak out and no one would be the wiser. She could always call him later to get the information. Calling him was smarter, easier. Better. She should have done that instead of showing up to talk to him face to face. Turning back to the door, she was ready to leave when her father spoke.
“Funny, I never thought you were a coward.”
His voice wasn’t angry, or rude, but there was that hint of disappointment that sunk right into her heart. If he’d been mad she could have easily dealt with it, she could match his temper any day. But his disappointment nearly ruined her.
“I’m not.” She turned back to see him walk down the stairs. “I thought no one was home.”
“Yes, we always leave the doors unlocked when we’re not home. That way the burglars don’t have to ruin the woodwork when they break in.” He stepped around her, his eyes barely scanning her, his voice thick with sarcasm.
She let out a long breath. “Go ahead, just get it over with. Say it.”
“Say what?” He kept walking, through the large living room, through their dining room until he reached the kitchen.
Sam followed with her shoulders slumped. “That you’re disappointed in me.” She took the glass of orange juice he handed her but didn’t lift her eyes to meet his.
“You’re a grown woman.” He gestured with his glass. “What you do with your life is your choice.” Grabbing a chair at the table, he took a fresh baked cookie from the plate in the center of the table, and simply stared at her.
She took a chair across from him. “He found out I’d been taken into the police station from Colleen and came by to see if I was okay. He was worried about me.”
“Okay, I’m done with this. Yes, I’m seeing and sleeping with a married man. Who is in the process of a divorce,” she emphasized. “I’m a grown woman and I’ve been running my own life for nearly five years now. Yes, it matters to me what my family thinks of me, but damn it, I’m in love with the guy and if it ends up breaking me, then it’s something I’ll deal with. But I won’t deny my feelings for a man simply to appease my family.”
He set his cookie down on the table then looked up at her with serious eyes. “Now let me tell you something. If that man hurts my little girl, I will make it my life’s mission to ruin him.”
She hadn’t expected that. “Nice to know you’re on my side.” She let out the breath she’d been holding and felt so much better now. “I love you.”
“Love you back, kiddo. Now, do you want to know that I found out?”
“Definitely.” She grabbed a cookie and munched on it in eager anticipation. It felt good to be on even ground with her father again. She hated when he was upset or disappointed in her.
Her father reached back onto the counter and grabbed a yellow folder. Laying it on the table, he flipped through the organized pages. “Seems Daniel J. Bennett was arrested and held for suspicion of child molestation three years ago in Surry.”
Her hand stopped short of her mouth. “You’re kidding me? How on earth could he be here, now?”
“Not enough evidence to hold him.” He shrugged. “Can’t charge a guy if the person accusing doesn’t want to talk.”
“Jesus, they let him go and he comes down here and murders eight children. Isn't justice fucking grand?” She lifted her eyes to her father. “We have to go to the police with this.”
“FYI, little girl, the cops are already on it. I called Bob and he informed me, in confidence, that the arson investigator had found suspicious materials in the remnants of the fire.”
“The bodies?” she said with excitement in her voice.
“Are they there now, the cops?”
She jumped out of her chair. “I’ve got to get down there.” Running from the room, Sam knew just what she had to do. She had to see it for herself.
“Hold up, Sam.” He raced after her. “You can’t just go barreling out there.”
“You’re still under suspicion.”
“Fuck that. You and I both know I didn’t do it.”
“Make sure you wash your mouth out with soap before you kiss your mother. I know you didn’t do it, but the cops are still investigating it.”
“I have to go, Dad. I need to be there.” She had to be there for the children.
He stared at her for a few moments before responding. “Fine, but I’m driving.”
“I knew you’d find a way to punish me for dating a married man,” she teased as she climbed into his car.
“Be nice.” He started the engine then turned to her. “One other thing. They can’t find Bennett.”
He held his hand up. “It appears he’s vanished.”
“But Carson’s partner…I don’t remember his name, stayed at the farm. How the hell did Bennett get away?”
“The cop was busy with the fire officials and didn’t notice him leaving.”
“See, they should have listened to me. Damn it!” She slammed her hands on the dashboard. “He’ll get away with it, again.”
“There’s more,” he added as he pulled away. “Bennett is the caretaker for St. Luke’s Catholic church.”
“I knew it! I knew he had a connection to the church. Damn!” Then she paused. “Wait. Not all of the children attended the same church. How is he connected to them?”
“It doesn’t always have to make sense, Sammy. He’s a habitual child predator. Odds are, he scopes out schools, playgrounds, watches the kids, and sees which ones are easy targets. It doesn’t take much to nab a young kid. They don’t put up much of a fight when they’re threatened. And another sad reality is, kids are too trusting. He could have lured them into his car with anything.”
Even though she knew he was right it didn’t make it hurt less. “And now he’s out there possibly scoping out someone else’s kid. I should have—”
“Don’t say it.” He rested his free hand on hers. “They have his description, his house is surrounded by police, and they have him on the network as a suspected predator. He won’t get far. They’ll get him, Sam.”
She wanted to believe that, except…She should have done more and she couldn’t help but feel she’d let down eight innocent children by not giving them the justice they deserved.
Sighing, she leaned back in her seat. “Let’s just hope they do before he strikes again.”